The Mark of the Iceman

By Carl Zimmer | March 25, 2008 10:06 pm

the mark

Mike writes:

“Otzi was discovered on a glacier in the Austrian-Italian alps by a couple of hikers – his body was well-preserved along with many of his possessions. On his skin there were something like 50 tattoos, I got 10 of the lines on my back in the same place he had his. — I figure you can spiff up the facts when you actually blog this.

Anyway, Otzi was human, 100% human, 100% genetically identical to modern humans today, genetically identical to us, to me. Despite being the same species, we live in a completely different way than he does. My dad worked in an office for 35 years, all my friends work in offices, I was expected to work in an office… so I got this tattoo to remind me that regardless of what our current, blinkofaneye society expects from me, I’m still a human and whatever choice I make is ok. If I want to cross the alps on foot, that doesn’t make me any less legitimate than my office-dwelling friends. I got the tattoo to link me to an ancestral human, to pre-industrial revolution (though unfortunately post-agricultural revolution) people. We can never go back, of course, but as Thoreau wrote, ‘There are as many ways to live as radii can be drawn from the center of a circle.'”

Carl: For more on Otzi, the 5300-year old man exposed by our warming climate, see Wikipedia and this tattoo site. This article from 1994 in the New York Times notes that the marks on Otzi’s back may have actually been acupuncture rather than some kind of display. But for Mike, it’s all tattoo. (Same for Brad Pitt.)

Click here to go to the full Science Tattoo Emporium.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Tattoo Emporium

Comments (10)

  1. Ally

    whoever has this tat… ur friggin sexy!
    wat a nice tattoo!!!!!

  2. pete

    your description sums up my entire philosophy

  3. Michael

    I like this. I hear what you are saying about Otzi, too. I think I may follow in your footsteps and also get this tattoo. I’m an evolutionary psychologist who dreams that humanity will wake up someday and say, “regardless of what our current, blinkofaneye society expects from me, I’m still a human and whatever choice I make is ok.” …each in their own words, of course. You are awakened to a humbling and impassioning reality, friend. :)

  4. justin

    Yeah cool tattoo. I’ve been planning on getting the full set for awhile now. I agree compleatly with your reasoning for it also. Anyway, I hate to be the barer of bad news but its on the wrong side.

  5. One of the coolest, and my favourites on here. I really like the meaning behind it. Simple yet effective

  6. not acupuncture! This was not “invented” until about 400 years ago… not 5300!

  7. Hi Everyone – This is Mike, the guy with the tattoo.

    Justin – You’re right – in this photo the tat is on the wrong side, but the photo itself is actually flipped. I must have taken this on my macbook’s camera, which displays mirror images for whatever reason.

    SuperDan – Just because acupuncture wasn’t invented until about 400 years ago doesn’t mean people weren’t using acupuncture and -pressure points to relieve pain without having codified its use.

    Ally – Thanks, ur sexy too.

  8. Erol

    Mike – Even with your so called camera tricks our tattoo is still on the wrong side. Otzi had the marks on his left side and it’s clear that your tattoo is on the right side of your back. Sorry but even your special “macbook camera” does not physically move ink molecules.

  9. I need a simple tattoo like that. Im having the hardest time coming up with a concept but for some reason I think I want to get something like this for my first tattoo.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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